Posts Tagged ‘Marsden Fund’

Assessment report calls for improvements to the Marsden Fund

Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith has released a report which details a number of measures to ensure the Marsden Fund, the Government’s premier fund for excellent investigator-led research, continues to be effective and fit-for-purpose.

The report found the Marsden Fund is highly-regarded, well-run and effective at selecting high-quality research within its current settings, but a number of improvements are needed to ensure it continues to deliver benefits in the future.

The Marsden Fund Council, which oversees the Fund’s operation, has been asked to develop a strategic direction which shows how the Fund will be managed to achieve its objectives and contribute to the National Statement of Science Investment vision and Goals.

The strategic direction will require the Marsden Council to:

  • Develop an Investment Plan that sets out the strategic direction of the Fund, addresses the issues identified in the assessment, and shows how the Fund will be managed to achieve its objectives; and
  • Develop a Performance Framework that will include periodic review by international experts to provide assurance of the value of the Government’s investment.

The implementation of any changes to the operation of the Fund will be clearly signalled through the Investment Plan. To assist the Council in its expanded role and to provide a strong, independent voice, the Minister of Science and Innovation will also be including more international Councillors on the Council through future appointment rounds.

“For the last 23 years the Marsden Fund has been undertaking high-quality scientific research and with these changes the Fund can plan for the next 23,” says Mr Goldsmith.

The Marsden Fund Assessment of Strategy and Management Report can be found on the MBIE website, HERE.

Lincoln researcher is awarded Marsden Fund grant for biosecurity work

Lincoln University lecturer Dr Amanda Black has been awarded a three-year grant from the Marsden Fund to explore how Māori knowledge can improve New Zealand biosecurity.

Invasions of unwanted organisms are rising globally as a result of increased global trade, tourism and climate change,. One in five plant species is at risk of extinction.

Dr Black says there are more ramifications for Māori and other indigenous groups than economic loss from the introduction and spread of invasive species than economic loss.

She says:

“Invasive species can also displace or destroy indigenous species and threaten the identity and functioning of indigenous cultures, by negatively impacting food gathering or ceremonial practices for example.”

The research project, ‘Reindigenising the Biosecurity System’, will use a range of interdisciplinary methods to explore what biosecurity means for Māori, using kauri dieback disease as an example. The disease, caused by a plant pathogen that was first detected in New Zealand in the 1950s, is damaging and killing kauri, from seedlings to mature iconic trees. It is currently spreading through the few remaining fragments of ancient forest in Northland.

“Kauri is an ancient, long-lived species and is at great risk of disappearing from our landscape and living memory,” says Dr Black. “Kauri trees are valued highly as a taonga, or treasured plant, by all New Zealanders, but have a specific role as tuakana (elder sibling), with a senior ancestral lineage and relationship for Northland Māori.”

The project will explore how indigenous knowledge, from past and present, combined with traditional science disciplines and social research can help protect kauri forests from modern biosecurity risks and threats.

“The extensive and profound knowledge that indigenous people have from a long-standing and intimate relationship with their environment is often overlooked by recent colonists, and presents a unique and innovative opportunity to improve current biosecurity paradigms and policy,” says Dr Black.

Her research will also compare how the cultural identity, perspectives and priorities of other indigenous peoples can be integrated in countries facing similar issues, an approach which could transform mainstream biosecurity research here and internationally.

The Marsden Fund supports excellence in leading-edge research in New Zealand. Projects are selected annually after a rigorous peer-review process. This year a total of 117 projects were funded and have been allocated $65.2 million.

Funding that might have boosted rural research puts wind in yachting sails instead

The Taxpayers Union, an outfit that keeps a close eye on how the Government uses public money,  has expressed outrage at a recent Callaghan Innovation research and development grant of up to $17.25 million to Team New Zealand.

Union executive director Jordan Williams says the fund is supposed to be about making New Zealand’s economic boat go faster, not to subsidise a professional sports team.

“It’s even worse than the usual corporate welfare we see from this Government. Only a politician, or someone with an interest in the deal, could possibly think that this grant is really going to lead to new jobs, exports or meaningful economic growth.

“Not only are taxpayers funding the sport of millionaires, we know that Callaghan have given ‘growth grants’ to Team New Zealand’s opposition, Oracle Team USA. Talk about a kick in the teeth for taxpayers.”

He didn’t say so, but it’s a kick in the teeth for agricultural and horticultural sector scientists, too.

The R and D pot is only so big and $17.25 million diverted to the America’s Cup challenges is $17.5 million that won’t be applied to projects in their bailiwick.

It’s not the first time the Taxpayers Union has questioned science funding decisions.

In November it challenged the Royal Society decision to award a $600,000 Marsden Fund grant to anti-TPPA campaigner Jane Kelsey to research “Neoliberalism”.

The grant, made by the panel responsible for social science grants, is for a project entitled ‘Transcending embedded neoliberalism in international economic regulation: options and strategies’.

Williams said then:

“This is hard-earned taxpayer money, meant for genuine research, being wasted on a project which appears to already have a conclusion. It’s highjacking academic research money to promote far left ideology.”

“The research is apparently about New Zealand’s ‘embedded neoliberalism’. ‘Neoliberalism’ is a term which has come to be used by the far left to mean ‘whatever we don’t like’. It’s used by the likes of Ms Kelsey to make markets and economic freedom sound scary.”

“We’ve asked the Royal Society precisely what Professor Kelsey’s falsifiable hypothesis is. On the face of it, this grant appears to be for research with a predetermined conclusion.”

The union had publicly supported Ms Kelsey’s work in holding the Government and Ombudsman to account for failing to uphold the Official Information Act.

Williams said the union respected the right for any individual or group to champion their political views, even if it disagrees with them.

“But it is completely inappropriate for taxpayers, many of whom do not agree with Ms Kelsey’s work, to be forced to fund her political campaigning.”

If the Taxpayers’ Union was given a $600,000 government grant to research academic activism, Williams contended, “Professor Kelsey would be rightly outraged.”

 

 

Evaluation of Marsden Fund shows scientific output increased

A study by researchers at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research – a not-for-profit, non-partisan research institute – has found that Marsden Funding does increase the scientific output of the funded researchers.

The Marsden Fund is the premiere funding mechanism for blue skies science research in New Zealand. In 2014, $56 million was awarded to 101 research projects chosen from among 1222 applications from researchers at universities, Crown Research Institutes and independent research organizations.

Dr Adam Jaffe, director of Motu, said the research found a team that is given Marsden funding shows a 6-12 percent increase in their academic publications and a 13-30 percent increase in the papers that cite their work.

“Publications and citations are, of course, only proxies for research output. However, we expect successful research to be highly cited,” said Dr Jaffe.

But the researchers also found no evidence that the selection process could meaningfully predict the likely success of different proposals.

The application process for the Marsden Fund has two stages. An initial one-page proposal is reviewed by a subset of the appropriate panel and given a preliminary score. 71-84 percent of the proposals are rejected.

In the second stage, longer proposals are submitted and sent to external (typically international) anonymous referees for review. Applicants are given the chance to respond to referee comments before the panel scores and ranks the proposals.

“Interestingly, we didn’t find a link between a project’s future success and the rankings given to it by the second-round panel,” said Dr Jaffe.

“This means there is no reason to expect diminishing returns if Marsden funding were increased. It also means the significant resources devoted to the second round evaluation could be reduced without degrading the quality of decision-making.”

This analysis is based on 1,263 Marsden proposals who reached the second stage of review between 2003 and 2008. Overall 41% of the second-round proposals were funded. Around 25% of the proposals were Fast Start (funding for early-career researchers) and slightly more than half of these were funded.

The average researcher on these teams made six proposals and received 1.2 grants between 2000 and 2012. Motu researchers also identified the approximately 1500 New Zealand based researchers named on these proposals and examined their annual publication and citation record between 1996-2012.

“We were very foturnate to have access to all the funded and unfunded proposals, including their evaluation scores. This meant we could control statistically for potential bias driven by the Fund’s efforts to fund projects that are expected to be successful,” said Dr Jaffe. The Marsden Fund and the Royal Society should be commended for making these data availabe, something very few research funding agencies do.”

New Zealand spends less money on research, relative to its size, than three-quarters of the countries in the OECD.

The government is considering expanding public funding to narrow this gap.

But very little has been known about the efficacy of existing funding mechanisms until now, Jaffe said.

The working paper “The effect of public funding on research output: The New Zealand Marsden Fund”, was funded by the Motu Research and Education Foundation, Queensland University of Technology and the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment.

Twenty years of the Marsden Fund are celebrated at Parliament

Research scientists, researchers and politicians gathered at Parliament this week to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Marsden Fund, New Zealand’s largest fund for leading-edge, fundamental research projects.

The fund was started by government in 1994 and supports projects in the sciences, technology, engineering, maths, social sciences and the humanities. It is administered on behalf of the government by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

The fund has distributed more than $600 million to over 1200 projects.

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Marsden Fund provides new money for plant science

Plant & Food Research has received funding from the Marsden Fund for two projects which will study how plants grow and adapt, fundamental science that will ultimately inform future crop breeding and growing practices.

One of the projects will investigate how ancient plant ancestors may have adapted to an environment with high UV radiation, providing better understanding of how plants may respond to future climate change.

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